Tuesday, September 27, 2022

New Schneider Permit Problems Prompt Query Into Planning Staff's Handling of Project

Posted By on Tue, Sep 27, 2022 at 12:03 PM

click to enlarge Travis Schneider's family home has sat partially built under a county stop work order since early this year. - SUBMITTED
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  • Travis Schneider's family home has sat partially built under a county stop work order since early this year.
Amid revelations last week that local developer Travis Schneider’s family home is twice the permitted size, it was also discovered that Schneider brought in 10 times the amount of fill dirt allowable for the project under its coastal development permit, county Planning Director John Ford confirmed to the Journal.

The latest in what is now a long string of violations of the provisions of Schneider’s coastal development permit, the development further complicates Schneider’s efforts to get a county stop work order lifted for the project and resume construction of his family home on Walker Point Road. It also raises questions about the Planning Department’s handling of the project and whether the developer received preferential treatment amid efforts to sidestep permit requirements.

Ford said the coastal development permit Schneider received for the project back in 2017 allowed him to bring in 1,500 cubic yards of fill soil but the developer was later issued a grading permit allowing him to import 15,000 cubic yards of fill dirt to the property.

“The grading permit is not in conformance with the (coastal development permit),” Ford said. “I don’t know what happened there. That’s a pretty glaring inconsistency. An extra zero is meaningful.”

The grading permit situation parallels the discovery last week that while Schneider’s coastal development permit allowed construction of an 8,000-square-foot home with a 1,000-square-foot natural light cellar, the Planning Department later approved building plans for a 20,817-square-foot structure, according to Ford. And these revelations come after another late last month in which it was discovered Planning Department staff had issued Schneider a building permit without a final septic permit approved by the county’s environmental health division, which was required under the CDP.

The coastal development permit is the authority on what’s allowable for the project and Ford said he’s still investigating how county staff could have approved permits and plans in violation of it on three separate occasions.

“There seem to have been some decisions that were made that I have not found the logic or the paper trail to justify,” he said. “But we’re working on it.”

Asked if his investigation has determined whether Schneider was given preferential treatment by planning staff, Ford said he’s not sure.

“That is a concern that I have,” he said. “I would like to think that it’s not true but the mere fact that you come up with that on your own and ask the question is the same thing that occurs to me. It’s like, ‘What the heck happened?’ Because something obviously was not right.”

Coastal Commission North Coast District Manager Melissa Kraemer said she would hesitate to put any blame for Schneider's predicament on the county, saying the developer knew — or should have known — the provisions of the coastal development permit, the governing document for the project, and not submitted plans and applications that overstepped its bounds.

While his internal investigation is ongoing, Ford said he’s already spoken with the person in his department responsible for ensuring permits are in compliance about implementing additional checks and balances.

“This can never, ever, ever happen again,” Ford said. “She’s working on safeguards to make sure numbers get checked and double checked, and numbers get reconciled before permits are issued.”

The county issued Schneider a stop work order Dec. 27, ordering him to halt construction of what he’s described as his family’s “dream home” south of Indianola Cutoff on a knoll abutting the Fay Slough Wildlife Area and overlooking Humboldt Bay after it was discovered he’d violated numerous conditions of his coastal development permit. Specifically, Schneider was found to have located the home on a different footprint than approved, intruding on a 100-foot wetland setback; cleared environmentally sensitive habitat; graded over a known Wiyot cultural site; and cut an unpermitted temporary construction access road on the property.

Schneider then continued construction in violation of the stop work order for 50 days, later explaining that he did so first while seeking “clarity” from the county and then with the approval of Ford, who has strongly denied that was the case.

Ford said he discussed the project — and the revelations of additional permit violations — separately with Schneider and California Coastal Commission staff Friday. Because the construction footprint of the house violated the wetland setback, the project’s permits are now appealable to the Coastal Commission, and Ford said commission staff is “extremely concerned” about its conformance with provisions of the local coastal program.

What’s clear, Ford said, is that a “different permitting approach” is needed, adding he discussed a range of options with Schneider, including everything from trying to get the existing house permitted “in some form” to removing the structure and fill dirt entirely.

Read a more thorough report on the latest developments and the Coastal Commission’s concerns in this week’s Journal, on newsstands tomorrow.
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Thadeus Greenson

Thadeus Greenson is the news editor of the North Coast Journal.

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